Walking in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
PHOTO: Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is easily reached by road from Lake Takapo or Twizel
Fresh air, exercise and it’s not too hard on the pocket. What’s more there’s some great walking to do even if the weather isn’t perfect.
Most visitors seem to arrive at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park on one of the tour buses, take a few photos and leave. At 3754 metres, New Zealand’s tallest peak is known as Aoraki in Maori.
Often the peak is shrouded in cloud. Like a great chief that favours its subjects with only fleeting appearances, those who get a clear shot of the summit are the lucky ones. But there’s so much more to the National Park than the peak that gave it its name.
If it’s snow clad mountain ranges and glaciers that you’re after, the stats speak for themselves: of the 27 mountains over 3050 metres above sea level in New Zealand, 19 are in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and 40 per cent of the Park is under glacial ice. The air is fresh and you don’t have to walk far, or gaze constantly upward, to appreciate the beauty of this wilderness. You’ll see alpine flowers scattered across valley floors breached by snow-fed crystal-clear rivers. For your appreciation, these flowers include the delicate Mt Cook buttercup, the conspicuous Mountain Daisy and the peculiar Golden Spaniard.
Most of the walks are well formed, suitable for all ages and easily completed in half a day. The Hooker Valley Track is one of the most popular walks in the Park. You can start the track from the Information Centre, but if you have transport there’s the option of driving up the Hooker Valley Road to save half an hour of walking.
Winding your way through alpine shrubland you’ll follow the Hooker River up the valley, traversing it twice on swing bridges. Aoraki/Mount Cook dominates the view up ahead, and to your left, the Mueller Glacier. At the top of the valley the scene opens out to the Hooker Glacier Terminal Lake, a startlingly desolate sight as ice-bergs float on the passive grey waters. Clear signage, warning you of probable rock falls up ahead, remind you that it’s taken you about two hours to reach the frontier for an unguided walker. It’s time to make your way back. If you have an extra hour, use it to get a little closer to the Mueller glacier. At the point where the Hooker Valley Track becomes the Hooker Valley Road you can join the Kea Point Track, and in less than an hour head up to the lookout and enjoy views of the overhead glacier. The Sealy Tarns Track is a steeper, more energetic walk that also connects to the Kea Point Track. The views from the tarns reward the effort of the climb.
For a day trip, the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is easily reached by road from Lake Takapo or Twizel.
The weather is changeable as you’d expect at such altitudes but a lot of walking is on rock so you won’t get bogged down in mud, and even when the cloud obscures the peaks there’s still loads to see. The alpine shrubland and glaciers at Aoraki/Mount Cook are a treat in any weather and on rainy days the valleys are transformed as rain-fed waterfalls suddenly appear in a confusion of white water and spray showering down from incredible heights. There are a few permanent waterfalls, fed by glaciers or hidden catchment lakes, but most only put in cameo performances when there’s enough rain falling on the tops, and their sighting is all the more precious for it.
The Cook Connection – Freephone 0800 26 65 26
YHA Mt Cook – Ph 03 435 1820
Mt Cook Backpackers – Freephone: 0800 100 512
Glacier Explorers – Freephone 0800 68 68 00
Glacier Sea Kayaking – Ph 03 435 1890
Tasman Valley 4WD and Argo Tours
Freephone: 0800 68 68 00
Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park Visitor Centre
Phone 03 435 1186
1 Larch Grove, Aoraki/Mt Cook
9-10-11 Aorangi Crescent
Lake Tekapo. Ph 03 680 6700
Lake Tekapo i-SITE Visitor Centre
Ph 03 680 6579